06 August 2009

Kyoto Day 3, Fureaikan Museum, Heian Shrine, and Shopping

Structure at Heian shrine

On day three of our visit, I joined a tour group run by Nancy McDonough of Kyoto Kimono. Nancy, her sister Christine, and 4 other women graciously made room in their group for me for three days while DH attended his high tech conference. We began the day at a wonderful museum, Fureaikan, the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. This is in the same complex as a major exhibition hall and some other municipal buildings, close to the Heian shrine.

Permanent exhibits display every type of traditional craft - bamboo, dyed and stenciled textiles, fans, paper, musical instruments, bows and arrows, metalwork, embroidery, masterpiece kimono, and more - with well-translated explanations in English. And - the best part for me- videos of work-in-progess, so the visitor can see the tools and techniques. I wish more American museums would educate visitors about process. After all, the descriptive "craft" is a bit of a misnomer - using specialized tools and techniques, not to mention chemical processes like dyeing and mordanting, is really proto-industrial production. Historically, craftsman (and women) dealt with issues such as division of labor, vertical integration of supplies and materials, marketing and distribution and so on. For more on craft as a "practical expression of social life", consider Edward Lucie-Smith's book "The Story of Craft"; the quote is from the book.

Interior of Fureaikan museum; metal screen recalls waving grasses

The Fureaikan is a complete facility for the study and examination of craft traditions - there are workrooms and classrooms for group activities, a library and a very good shop. Photography is not allowed in the exhibit space, but take my word for it that this site is worth the trip. There doesn't seem to be an independent website for this museum, but hours and location, at least, can be found at http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en/theme/sites/museums/fureaikan/

After the museum, we walked to a riverside restaurant, Ganko, with a delightful traditional garden, for lunch. The website is http://www.gankofood.co.jp/en/

View of Kamo river; our restaurant is one of the buildings on the bank

My lunch
Shadows are from overhead lattice slats; nice and shady in the heat

Here I had my first encounter with sushi, in the form of small squares of salmon and some other fish. I personally don't care for the chewy texture, but I'll be the first to admit that this daughter of the midwest has deeply ingrained cultural attitudes towards that most basic of culinary divisions, the raw and the cooked. We have wonderful fish in the Midwest - perch, bluegill, catfish, etc. - all delicious pan-fried. Needless to say, because of parasites, there's no tradition of raw fresh water fish, I dare say, anywhere in the world and certainly not in the Great Lakes. I believe that everything raw in Japan is a salt-water species. So I think my inherent aversion to raw fish has extra deep roots in that I grew up with the fresh water fish mindset that fish is cooked, end of story.

The seaweed, veggies and prawn were yummy and my chopsticks skills adequate, until I tackled the gelatinous glob in the upper right hand corner in the image. It looked and felt like a green eyeball, and it was just as well I never managed to manuver this object out of the bowl.

Everything was beautifully presented and absolutely fresh. Kudos to our Japanese liaison, Junko, who had scouted this restaurant for us. After lunch we had the opportunity to accompany Junko to the outdoor food market, Nishiki, or go with Nancy to the Shinto Heian shrine. We all chose the Heian shrine. Afterwards I wished I'd gone to the food market; I think my encounter with the green eyeball substance mentioned above influenced my decision, unfortunately.

From top: Chinese bridge, entrance gate to Heain shrine,
Shobikan pavilion, school girls tying paper prayers

Not that the Heian shrine isn't popular, particularly with Japanese tourists during cherry blossom season, or that it isn't, just for sheer size, impressive. The main gate, the orange structure in the collage above, is a photogenic, intense color, especially in contrast with the white gravel throughout the complex. On a sunny day, the reflection off that gravel is like the reflection off snow - sunglasses are a must or a parasol or hat. Of course, I knew exactly where my sunglasses were - on the kitchen counter, back home, placed carefully by the door so I wouldn't forget them!

The Heian shrine was built in 1895 and the buildings are replicas, at reduced scale, of the Imperial Court Palace of the Heian period (794-1185 AD). As Japan fitfully modernized in the late 19th century, disruption and dislocation brought morale to a low ebb, and this monument may be an embodiment of nostalgia for the era before Commodore Perry and his black ships forcibly opened Japan to western trade in 1853. Just ten years after completion of this shrine, Japan surprised the great powers by winning the Russo-Japanese conflict, annexing Korea and part of China; the stage was set for a resurgence of nationalism, and the eventual ascendancy of the militarists.

History aside, the stroll gardens are pretty, especially the Chinese-style bridge (top photo, above) where one can purchase pellets and feed the fish, but the whole place felt a bit ersatz to me, and I think I'll do the Nishiki Food Market next time.

Shopping arcade off Teramachi-dori, Kyoto
Large image is the Chicago used kimono store

Following the shrine we went back to the hotel, rested up, and then off again in the evening to a shopping arcade, with stores aimed mostly at young people, I think. We ate at a fun informal restaurant. Nancy then made a bee-line for a vintage clothing store called Chicago. One of the fun things about Japan is the seemingly random use of English names or phrases for places and items. For example, a popular chain of convenience stores is named Lawson's and a brand of bottled water available in vending machines is labelled Polcari Sweat (not too appetizing, I admit.)

There were a number of Western tourists shopping in the upstairs part of the store, for vintage kimono and other garments. Most of the kimono at Chicago were made of synthetic fabric and sold for about $20 each, all were neat and clean; there were a few in nicer fabrics. Uncharacteristically for me, I found an X-rated under-kimono with a pattern of line-drawings adapted from antique erotic woodblock prints. Dr. Ruth - remember her? - would have loved it. Nancy seemed very taken with the garment and bought it. Sometimes it is more fun to help someone else make a special acquisition.

After shopping we went to a Haagen-Dazs for ice cream; alas, few of the hoped-for Japanese flavors -no sesame? no bean paste? - but they did offer green tea ice cream, which was tasty. Early to bed this night as we were getting up very early Thursday for the flea market.